New Delhi: A Muslim teenager from Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor has been arrested under the state’s new ‘anti-conversion’ law after he walked home from a birthday party with his former classmate, a Dalit girl.
The 16-year-old girl has repeatedly said that all allegations of ‘love jihad‘ are completely false, and that the boy was a friend of hers. “I have told this to the magistrate, and I will say this again. Those men had a problem with me walking with my friend. They made videos of me and are now calling it love jihad. I did nothing wrong. I went of my own free will,” she told the Indian Express.
On the night of December 14, at around 10 pm, the two were walking home from a friend’s birthday party when they were allegedly chased by a group of right-wing Hindu men, beaten with sticks and questioned. On learning that the two belonging to two different religions, the group forced them to go to a police station, the newspaper reported.
The FIR, apparently based on a complaint from the girl’s father, said the boy “induced the girl to elope with him” with the “intention to marry and convert her”. However, the girl’s father has denied any such allegations. “I trust my daughter completely. What wrong did she do? Why must she be made part of politics? Is it unlawful for a boy and a girl to walk together now?” he told the Indian Express.
He insisted that the local pradhan had politicised and communalised the matter. “This is all politics. They made videos of my daughter and falsely claimed that this was a case of love jihad. I have been pradhan before and was planning to contest again. But now they have shamed my daughter and polarised the village.”
The Muslim boy – who the police say is 18 years old but his family says is 17 – has been charged under the new law, for abduction, and under sections of the SC/ST Act and POCSO Act.
“The accused is in judicial custody. If he is minor, they will have to produce documents to show that. We have invoked appropriate sections in this case after questioning the girl and on the basis of her father’s complaint,” Arun Kumar, Station House Officer, Dhampur told the Indian Express.
The arrested young man works in Dehradun as a welder’s apprentice, his family said, and came back to Bijnor on December 9 because his mother was unwell. “On December 14, my son left in the evening, saying he was attending a birthday party and won’t be home for dinner. Now they are accusing him of converting a girl to Islam. This is completely false,” his mother said.
UP’s new law has been criticised by a large number of experts, who believe it is giving the police and right-wing Hindu groups power to harass Muslim men and interfaith couples. Recently, an interfaith couple were taken into custody while registering their marriage, and the woman suffered a miscarriage while at the state’s ‘shelter home’.
UP, which has a significant Muslim population, was the first to pass an ordinance or an executive order to tackle ‘love jihad’. According to the ordinance, a marriage will be declared null and void if a woman converts into a religion solely for marriage. Those wishing to change their religion after their wedding would need to apply to the district magistrate a month in advance.
The state’s cabinet approved the ordinance even though on November 11, the Allahabad high court denounced a judgment by a single-judge bench that chief minister Yogi Adityanath had openly cited as proof that his crusade against ‘love jihad’ had merit.
As several experts and analysts have pointed out, the law is framed in vague language and appears to be intended for the harassment of interfaith couples, rather than serious worries about ‘forced conversion’. According to The Hindu, at least 11 FIRs have already been filed under the new law, and at least 34 people arrested.